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Cornel West – Living and Loving Out Loud; Book Review

November 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Book Reviews, News, Weekly Columns

( Public intellectual, philosopher, writer, and activist Cornel West is the author of several books about the various aspects of American culture. Well known for delving into complex issues ranging from race to religion, politics, and popular culture, Dr. West has never been an individual to shy away from speaking truth to power. Race Matters, the arguably now classic book provided an in depth analysis of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. While the list of topics he touches on reach far and wide, the life he led prior to being a world renowned professor was not one of them. Living and Loving Out Loud: A Memoir, fills in much of this background.

This latest book differs from his past work, as the focus is directed inward. Living and Loving Out Loud is the story of Dr. West upbringing, coming of age, and personal struggles throughout his life journey. Critically looking at one’s experiences is no easy undertaking, and the manner in which he does is refreshing. Instead of being evasive about his mishaps, he honestly puts forth the events of his life in a tone that is free of self-aggrandizement.

Cornel West describes himself as “a bluesman in the life of the mind, and a jazzman in the world of ideas.” In discussing his love for music, he recounts his personal favorites that range from nearly every genre of 20th century music. Be it Jazz, Blues, or Hip-Hop, West expresses his insight on the inner workings of the genre. It is admirable how he can explain at length the elements of popular music, and see the value in an art form that many intellectuals regard as debased and transitory.

Of particular note, is Dr. West outlook on hip-hop and its origins. He notes “Music education was drastically cut in neighborhood schools. Poor kids couldn’t get their hands on instruments. So self-invented artists—like Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Kool Herc—invented instruments of their own. In talking about the origin of music he takes into account the reality of the conditions arose from. To paraphrase, this genre of music literally made something out of nothing. A point missed by most pundits and critics of rap music.

Also central to Dr. West life is his belief in God. From his upbringing in the church of his youth, to the time that he taught at Union Theological Seminary right here in Harlem, up to the present day he describes himself as a devout Baptist. It is a large part of his worldview, and the reason he feels able to continue on in life. While many intellectuals may pride themselves on their lack of belief, he grounds himself in his Christian outlook, especially when he speaks of the necessity of dealing with urban and rural poverty.

Living and Loving Out Loud is a worthy read. When learning about the life of an accomplished public figure, there are always lessons to be learned. As someone who is familiar with the work of Dr. West, I must also add that this book is written in a very conversational tone, unlike Democracy Matters for example. Not limited to chronicling his own life, Dr. West also mentions books that were influential in his personal development. If one wanted to, you could compile a bibliography of the materials mentioned, and it would keep you reading for months! However, that is beside the point. More importantly, what one takes away from this book is the idea that as long as we live, whether we be famous or obscure, well off or always for want, we are all works in progress.

Written By Marc W. Polite

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